Because I said so!


Melissa Harris-Perry doubles down on teh stupid:

The Epistemology of Race Talk

I logged onto Twitter on Sunday night and discovered that my recent article for The Nation was causing a bit of a stir. Some members of the white liberal political community are appalled and angry that I suggested racial bias maybe responsible for the President’s declining support among white Americans. I found some responses to my piece to be fair and important, others to be silly and nonresponsive, and still others to be offensive personal attacks. But those categories are par for the course.

I make it a practice not to defend my public writings. Because I often write about provocative topics like race, gender, sexual orientation and reproductive rights, if I defended every piece I wrote against critics I would find little time to sleep. But the responses to this recent article have been revealing in ways that I find typical of our contemporary epistemology of race. Often, those of us who attempt to talk about historical and continuing racial bias in America encounter a few common discursive strategies that are meant to discredit our perspectives. Some of them are in play here.

1. Prove it!

The first is a common strategy of asking any person of color who identifies a racist practice or pattern to “prove” that racism is indeed the causal factor. This is typically demanded by those who are certain of their own purity of racial motivation. The implication is if one cannot produce irrefutable evidence of clear, blatant and intentional bias, then racism must be banned as a possibility. But this is both silly as an intellectual claim and dangerous as a policy standard.

In a nation with the racial history of the United States I am baffled by the idea that non-racism would be the presumption and that it is racial bias which must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. More than 100 years of philosophical, psychological and sociological research that begins, at least, with the work of W.E.B. Du Bois has mapped the deeply entrenched realities of racial bias on the American consciousness. If anything, racial bias, not racial innocence is the better presumption when approaching American political decision-making. Just fifty years ago, nearly all white Democrats in the US South shifted parties rather than continuing to affiliate with the party of civil rights. No one can prove that this decision was made on the basis of racial bias, but the historical trend is so clear as to require mental gymnastics to imagine this was a choice not motivated by race.

Progressives and liberals should be particularly careful when they demand proof of intentionality rather than evidence of disparate impact in conversations about racism. Recall that initially the 1964 Civil Rights Act made “disparate impact” a sufficient evidentiary claim for racial bias. In other words, a plaintiff did not need to prove that anyone was harboring racial animus in their hearts, they just needed to show that the effects of a supposedly race neutral policy actually had a discernible, disparate impact on people of color. The doctrine of disparate impact helped to clear many discriminatory housing and employment policies off the books.


First things first: What does “The Epistemology of Race Talk” mean?

epis·te·mol·o·gy
noun \i-ˌpis-tə-ˈmä-lə-jē\

Definition of EPISTEMOLOGY: the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity


Well that didn’t help much. Let’s try this:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Epistemology

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.


“The study of knowledge and justified belief of race talk?”

WTF?

Never mind, let’s move on:

Some members of the white liberal political community are appalled and angry that I suggested racial bias maybe responsible for the President’s declining support among white Americans.


Suggested? The title of the article was “Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama.”

Then there is this epic strawman:

1. Prove it!

The first is a common strategy of asking any person of color who identifies a racist practice or pattern to “prove” that racism is indeed the causal factor. This is typically demanded by those who are certain of their own purity of racial motivation. The implication is if one cannot produce irrefutable evidence of clear, blatant and intentional bias, then racism must be banned as a possibility. But this is both silly as an intellectual claim and dangerous as a policy standard.


When someone makes assertions it is perfectly legitimate to ask them for some sort of proof. Can Ms. Harris-Perry give us a prima facie case? How about one supported by a preponderance of the evidence? Present the facts and use logic to connect the dots to a reasonable conclusion that is more likely correct than not.

That’s called “argument.”

In a nation with the racial history of the United States I am baffled by the idea that non-racism would be the presumption and that it is racial bias which must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. More than 100 years of philosophical, psychological and sociological research that begins, at least, with the work of W.E.B. Du Bois has mapped the deeply entrenched realities of racial bias on the American consciousness. If anything, racial bias, not racial innocence is the better presumption when approaching American political decision-making. Just fifty years ago, nearly all white Democrats in the US South shifted parties rather than continuing to affiliate with the party of civil rights. No one can prove that this decision was made on the basis of racial bias, but the historical trend is so clear as to require mental gymnastics to imagine this was a choice not motivated by race.


This paragraph would make more sense if we weren’t talking about white liberals and “the party of civil rights.” Shouldn’t they be relieved of the presumption of racial bias?

At what point is the past the past? W.E.B. Du Bois died in 1963. Many of the people Ms. Harris-Perry is talking about were born in the years since then. Meanwhile, Jim Crow segregation has gone from being the law to being against the law.

Progressives and liberals should be particularly careful when they demand proof of intentionality rather than evidence of disparate impact in conversations about racism. Recall that initially the 1964 Civil Rights Act made “disparate impact” a sufficient evidentiary claim for racial bias. In other words, a plaintiff did not need to prove that anyone was harboring racial animus in their hearts, they just needed to show that the effects of a supposedly race neutral policy actually had a discernible, disparate impact on people of color. The doctrine of disparate impact helped to clear many discriminatory housing and employment policies off the books.


I love it when non-lawyers start tossing legal terms around.

The doctrine of disparate impact applies to “A facially neutral employment practice is one that does not appear to be discriminatory on its face; rather it is one that is discriminatory in its application or effect.” Where a disparate impact is shown, the plaintiff can prevail without the necessity of showing intentional discrimination unless the defendant employer demonstrates that the practice or policy in question has a demonstrable relationship to the requirements of the job in question.


In this particular instance the job in question is the President of the United States. Ms. Harris-Perry claims there is a disparate impact between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – white liberals reelected one and are abandoning the other. Assuming she is correct then the defense is simple.

The Big Dawg succeeded while Obama is failing miserably. That’s what you call a “demonstrable relationship to the requirements of the job in question.”


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27 Responses to Because I said so!

  1. votermom says:

    I love the heads-I-win tails-you lose setup she has.
    It’s racist because she says it is, and if you ask for proof that proves you are racist.

    This reminds me of dark ages theology. God exists because the clergy says he does, and if you ask for proof that God exists then you are going to go to hell (and the clergy will speed you on your way).

    • Mary says:

      True story.

      She engages in gobbledegook circular thinking, but basically ends up with “Cuz I say it is,” all wrapped up in a fancy, but empty, vocabulary.

      Great post, myiq!

      • Mimi says:

        I do not think they understand how many people have completely tuned this stuff out. Not interested, know it’s gobbledegook, and some kind of academic/media racket run to meet PC standards that are in somebody important’s head to threaten and shame the masses. Give it a rest Dr. Harris-Perry. We do not want a grade from you.

  2. Three Wickets says:

    The recession has been painful for everyone, statistics say it has been extra painful for minorities, Obama has done little to help them. Instead of addressing that, the Obama re-election campaign is spending more time race-baiting and white liberal guilt-baiting. Melissa is with the Obama campaign. Simple as that.

    Melissa wants to promote a national dialogue on race relations, fine. Let’s do that honestly. Let’s not have strawman debates about race for the sole purpose of helping Obama the Messiah get re-elected, and that’s what Melissa was doing in her Nation article. Obama doesn’t necessarily care about minorities, he cares about minority votes.

  3. WMCB says:

    By her reasoning, Obama’s presidency is having a disparate impact on the black community, therefore Obama is a racist.

    If Melissa and those like her wanted to continue to be given the benefit of the doubt and a presumption of sincerity when making accusations of racism, perhaps they should have thought twice before they decided to use racism accusations as a political tool and weapon to silence dissent or rational criticism.

    I don’t even flinch anymore if someone calls me a racist, or complains that anything I say or do is racially hurtful. Not even a reflexive wince. The exception would be if it were a friend, family member, etc, whom I know well and trust. Then I’d check myself and apologize profusely, and try to understand how I came to give offense. Because I know what they’re after, and it’s not political advantage.

    But random people of any color branding me with that accusation? Nope. Don’t even care anymore.

  4. DeniseVB says:

    Good read.

    http://patriotupdate.com/articles/black-pastor-sues-obama-democratic-party-for-racism

    Reverend Wayne Perryman began the lawsuit (case C11-1503) along with journalist Robert Parks because he was fed up with all the rhetoric coming from the left, blaming all of Obama’s failures on race. Perryman and Parks began researching the Democrat Party and became enraged when they noticed the Democrat Party—via their website–was whitewashing their own history.

    On the archived Democrat.org site—which has since been scrubbed– they gave a brief acknowledgment that their party was formed over 200 years ago.

    Over two hundred years ago, our Party’s founders decided that wealth and social status were not an entitlement to rule.

    That was it—no mention of any of their mistakes—including the fact that also over 200 years ago, the Democrat Party blocked all efforts by Republicans to abolish slavery.

    • Mary says:

      Or that most of the Democratic Party voted against the Civil Rights Bill. Had it not been for the Republicans, it might never have passed.

      Idiots.

    • Monster from the Id says:

      Unfortunately, the use of the noun “Democrat” as an adjective is a dead giveaway that this comes from a wingnut site. I tune them out exactly as I tune out the MHPs of this world.

      • Mary says:

        Not necessarily. I’ve heard/read plenty of Democrats who use the noun as the adjective incorrectly.

        Not always “wingnuts.” Just poor English skills.

  5. DandyTiger says:

    Honk, honk! Great post.

  6. WMCB says:

    It makes about as much sense as claiming that a person dropping to the ground and yelling is proof positive that an assault occurred.

    Now, could a person dropping to the ground and yelling be a real indicator that an assault occurred? Absolutely! But we’d have a pretty screwed up society if we decided that it was the only data point necessary to make that determination. Because, like, human beings never ever ever figure out how to work things like that to their advantage, do they?

    And now I’ll sit back and wait for the frothing screamers to scream that because I made that logical observation, it means that I am in favor of assault, want to excuse assaulters, or don’t believe that assaults even exist at all.

    • Mary says:

      Here’s a new one from the NYT: “Obama Proposes Protecting Unemployed Against Hiring Bias”

      So, if you’re a small business owner, and a job applicant is unqualified for the position but has been unemployed for a year or two, according to Obama’s “fairness doctrine,” that employee can get a lawyer and sue your ass for discrimination.

      God Almighty. It never stops.

  7. yttik says:

    “I suggested racial bias maybe responsible for the President’s declining support among white Americans….”

    I wonder what accounts for his declining support among Hispanics, Native Americans, blacks, Pacific Islanders, women, people who wash cars for a living, Starbucks customers, Soccer moms…..

    • DandyTiger says:

      Bingo. His support among AA’s has dropped more than with any other group. Maybe she should get together with Morgan Freeman and compare notes. Oh wait, no, he’s too busy with his granddaughter/wife.

  8. gram cracker says:

    Raycism is everywhere. Ice cream cone costume mistaken for KKK robe.

    http://www.ocala.com/article/20110926/ARTICLES/110929750

    “Interestingly, Diaz, who is from Puerto Rico, had never heard of the KKK before this controversy. She can’t even quite get her tongue around the name, referring to the white supremacist group as the “Ku Ku Klan” without a hint of irony or sarcasm.”

  9. foxyladi14 says:

    obobo has set race relations back at least 50 years 🙄

  10. gxm17 says:

    The truth is that, yes, many of the folks who voted for Obama in 2008 because he is bi-racial will, in considering his job performance, not vote for him in 2012. As for voting for the “black guy,” they’ll have already punched that ticket and will not feel any obligation to do so again. I just don’t see the race card giving Obama much traction this time around. As for me, I never once voted for a Bush, not daddy, not son, and not jr. jr. And I’m not about to start. Call me whatever you want Melissa. I really couldn’t care less.

    That said, a lot of AAs seem to take criticism of Obama personally. And I find myself feeling bad for people like Melissa who have so much invested in such a shallow, self-absorbed, blundering asshat. That they have to salve their disappointment with false accusations of racism makes it all the more depressing.

  11. Nell says:

    Melissa’s lack of understanding of the concept of disparate impact is mind-boggling. You don’t get to claim disparate impact with a sample size of one.

    Get back to us when we’ve had five or ten presidents of color and none of them is elected to a second-term despite qualifications and records of achievement comparable to their white counterparts. Then I might entertain a case of disparate impact.

    • Nell says:

      And the more I think about, even with multiple presidents of color, you might have a case of disparate treatment, but not disparate impact — an indication that Melissa doesn’t understand either one.

      (Probably unnecessary disclosure: I do not now nor have I ever practiced employment law.)

  12. Monster from the Id says:

    She expends all this passion to defend a conservative Oreo. What has he actually done for non-affluent AAs?

Comments are closed.